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HomeTechGenerative AI comes to Office: What it means (and who’s at risk)

Generative AI comes to Office: What it means (and who’s at risk)


(Microsoft is a customer of the author.)

Microsoft has unveiled its ‘Copilot’ generative AI for Office and I believe it’s as big a change as Windows launch (and I was the Windows launch analyst when I started my career).

With such progress, there is always an impact on employment, performance and the trajectory of the related work. In Thinking Generative AI, the third segment of the movie Fantasy — The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – comes to mind. It dramatizes what can happen when someone gains incredible power, but doesn’t know how to use it properly and ends up in an ocean of trouble. The most important part of using a force multiplier tool like generative AI is learning how to use it properly and responsibly.

The tool’s strongest strength is quantitative, as you can do much more with it in less time. (It also has some qualitative capabilities, but they are still less mature at this stage.) Too often people who focus on quality do so at the expense of quantity, so increasing output using AI tools can enabling them to deliver more peak performance – notch work; conversely, those who work quickly may sacrifice quality – so increasing their output will only make things worse.

My warning to the “fast” people: these types of tools may be very attractive, but at the end of the day you should still focus on the quality of your work.

The example of Tesla

Tesla is a good example. When it entered the automotive market, it built its business as a technology company should, with a strong focus on automation and robotics. What it lacked is in-depth knowledge of building cars. As a result, it was able to build affordable electric cars first, but struggled with incredible quality issues that lasted longer than they should. Tesla focused on speed and cost control, but the technology, robotics and automation used, such as generative AI, accelerated production without improving quality.

In contrast, when Jaguar first built its F-Type in new automated factories, the company hired experts from Mercedes to run the facilities. While Jaguar generally has a poor reputation for quality, the F-Type ranks much higher in quality because the people who run the factory have implemented a high-quality process that has resulted in far fewer problems.

A technology like robotics or AI can speed up processes enormously, but it will speed up both good and bad practices because it doesn’t know the difference. You can teach AI the difference, but if you don’t understand how to achieve high quality, you can’t direct the AI ​​to create it. In short, generative AI gives those who know how to create high-quality output a way to significantly increase their high-quality work. But those who trade quality for volume only produce more poor quality work. That usually doesn’t end well.

Although Tesla eventually improved the quality of its product, the initial advantage of being the sole electric car company is shifting. Early indicators are that Tesla buyers are some of the first to buy electric cars from companies like Porsche, which has a reputation for high-performance cars. Tesla’s crumbling reputation could have been avoided if it had focused on quality sooner.

Who benefits the most

What I find fascinating about Microsoft putting generative AI into Office is that while this technology is very new, it is surprisingly capable and advancing at an almost unbelievable rate. ChatGPT, at the root of Copilot (the name of Microsoft’s effort), is already in its fourth version and we’re only now getting it. The application is new, but the core technology is four generations old.

For a newly released product, the quality of the tool is unusually high, putting the focus that would result from a low-quality result on the user. If users do not quickly learn the strengths and weaknesses of this tool and do not focus on a high-quality result, they will become a problem for management to solve.

Those most at risk initially are those who misuse the tools. They create low-quality results at higher volume, making their shortcomings too obvious to ignore. In contrast, those who understand what this tool can do and train it to higher standards will stand out against their more poorly trained peers; they will not only survive this wave of technology, but thrive through it.

Copilot for PowerPoint

I’m incredibly excited about Copilot, but like you, I’ll focus on learning how to use this tool before relying heavily on it – and I’ll be constantly focused on quality while letting the tool improve my productivity (because I’m not out of date want to touch). A very interesting aspect in that regard is Copilot for PowerPoint.

This is a bit different from the other implementations that focus on quantity in that it converts text into presentations. Many of us – and I’m guilty of this too – use PowerPoint as speaker notes, but don’t use the full power of that tool to convey a visual message. Copilot can help users create great presentations because it combines our ability to create a script with a more visceral visual medium. Ironically, part of my initial success in marketing was the ability to make better presentations, an ability that made me much more visible to management than those less skilled.

For those of you who cheat a bit with PowerPoint but know how to tell good stories, this tool is a godsend for presentations. It creates images in documents and books that visually convey the concept you are trying to convey. Granted, if you can’t tell a story at first, you’re still in trouble, but this one tool is what I’m most excited about.

How this technology will evolve

Generative AI is the first tool that really learns from us. Over time, it is able to learn and automate what we do at an ever-increasing pace. Like any automation process, this means that if we try to eliminate our defects from the start, we will minimize the proliferation of those defects over time. If we don’t, we’ll end up spending a lot of time trying to get our AI helpers to unlearn all our bad practices.

I expect this tool class to be the foundation for creating digital twins, meaning the more effort we put into making sure our twin is of higher quality than us, the better it will be when it matures. We are at the beginning of the evolution of these tools and it is clear to me that those who embrace this technology – and learn how to use it effectively – will displace those who do not, just as people who embraced computers will replace those who stayed bypassed with typewriters or calculators.

This is just the beginning of the AI ​​wave. As with any such advancement, it is better to learn to swim with it quickly, as the alternative is to drown in it. And nobody wants that.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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